There is little doubt that newspapers are undergoing a change never before seen in our industry, but these are exciting times as we write our future. We must remember to take advantage of both traditional and innovative opportunities whenever they present themselves.
For the Toronto Star, the Royal Wedding (yes, that one with William and Kate) presented an unusual opportunity, but one that we boldly jumped on. How about we partner with a U.K. newspaper? Offer our readers a content-heavy special section, upgrade our newsprint for the day and — get this — raise our newsstand price from C$2.50 to C$5.25 for that edition only.
At first the concept was met with some internal debate and resistance: at more than double the regular rate, would this really sell? The trick was ensuring we had the right content, promoting it properly, and having the logistics in place to handle what might cause unusual demand in the marketplace.
We also felt this special section might offer advertisers a unique opportunity to reach an engaged audience with a special message. To allow for maximum use of colour, we decided to run our presses collect for that one night to allow for colour on every page. We ran a 96-page newspaper on a hi-bright newsprint in collect mode, something never done before at our newspaper.
I can remember a time when an opportunity like this would excite our circulation staff, causing an increase in single-copy draws and ultimately a lift in newsstand sales. Unfortunately, those days are mostly behind us. For news events, people either use television or navigate to their favourite Web sites to stay in touch with the world’s happenings. We expected the Royal Wedding to be pretty much the same — but just maybe we could turn this into a significant money-maker.
It took a few swings but eventually we were able to make a content arrangement with The Times of London to offer our readers a Toronto Star/Times of London collector’s edition of the Toronto Star. The timing was tight, with the wedding on a Friday and the section to be featured in our Saturday newspaper, but the two newspapers figured it out. We met our production deadlines, the collector’s edition was on time, and it looked great. But would it sell?
Always the curious one, I was out Saturday morning checking out retail locations to see how our experiment was working out. At first, I was a bit disappointed; everywhere I went, the piles of newspapers looked mostly like any other Saturday.
But as the day went on, things changed. Vending boxes were empty and most newsstand locations were either out of newspapers or were very close.
I should mention that in addition to the special section, we included a collector’s medallion for newsstand sales only. Subscribers who had home delivery could order a medallion by paying shipping and handling costs only. We believed the inclusion of the medallion might make the lift in price seem more reasonable. I think the jury is out on the medallion: did it help or was this really all about the content all along?
In the end, we sold more newspapers than during a regular week, had sellouts across the city, and at more than double the regular single-copy price. On the advertising front, we had a very solid day. Not only did we sell out of ads inside the special section, we were also able to take advantage of the collect run (and associated colour) and lift advertising volumes overall for the day.
So was it worth it? Absolutely, and if the opportunity presented itself we would do it again.
There is no doubt it took considerable effort to pull this all together. But we made money, our subscribers received an excellent keepsake and we learned a thing or two about retail possibilities. We did field a number of reader complaints about the price hike, but considering the size of our market, the complaints were within the range we expected.
We are now on the lookout for the next “opportunity.”